Meadville Tribune

Opinion

March 22, 2013

EDITORIAL: School board should support community group by continuing MARC funding

MEADVILLE — Crawford Central School District should act now to show its support for a grassroots effort to improve the Meadville Area Recreational Complex by reversing its decision to eliminate funding for the MARC starting July 1.

By continuing at minimum the current level of funding — about $200,000 a year down from $260,000 just a few years ago — the school board will quite literally buy the Community Advisory Team the time it needs to engage area residents in developing and implementing a new plan for the complex — a plan intended to generate more and new revenue.

We understand and respect the school board’s decision to cut and then eliminate MARC funding given the circumstances that existed when that decision was made. The district is facing significant reductions in state aid and must carefully justify each penny spent.

Since then, however, three significant factors have come into play that warrant revisiting the funding decision. One is fact that the MARC board has not, on its own, found a way to make up for the loss of funding, which raises the very real specter of the entire facility failing. Another is the early February public meeting called by the MARC board to solicit input. That meeting was attended by more than 200 people, which qualifies as a weighty show of support compared to the response other public bodies get when issuing similar calls. The third, and perhaps most significant, is the emergence of the Community Advisory Team. Its goal is to conduct a visioning process in an effort to ensure the MARC is aligned with community needs and to develop a plan that would change and improve MARC operations to generate more and new revenue. To be sure, this is more than a group of nice folks with good intentions. CAT members are among the best and brightest in our community, each rightfully described as very successful in the public and private spheres ranging in endeavors from medicine to manufacturing. Building a better, brighter, more financially secure future for the MARC is a complicated and involved task, but there is every reason to believe that the CAT has the expertise and experience to get the job done.

The hard work will be well worth the effort. As that process begins, we would do well to remember why the MARC exists and why literally millions of your dollars — through the taxes you pay to the school district and either Meadville, Vernon or West Mead townships — have been spent on the facility. Years ago, before many of us were born and when many others of us were very young, this community was haunted by the recurring tragedy of lives lost too soon. French Creek was about the only place kids could swim in the heat of the summer, and the creek is a dangerous place for even accomplished swimmers. As a result, drowning deaths were common. It was so bad that in the early 1970s the community rallied to build a facility that to this day is an unrivaled example of regional cooperation in our area. The MARC was built to save kids’ lives and swimming was made a part of Crawford Central School District’s curriculum. This was so important that the school district, Meadville and West Mead and Vernon townships all joined in ongoing financial support for the MARC.

Today, thank goodness, child drownings in French Creek are a rarity. The MARC is considered a community asset, one that many recruiters and realtors make a point of showing to clients, but it seems we’ve forgotten the real reason it exists. It has been so successful we’ve been given that luxury. We need to step back into the shoes of the Crawford Countians who came before us and try to understand the enormity of their concern by taking a new look at their response — the MARC. Are we ready to risk returning to the bad old days by jeopardizing the future of this facility? Are we ready to give up the massive investment of your money by jeopardizing the future of this facility?

We don’t think so, and the first step is having the school board stabilize the MARC’s finances while the CAT does its work.

It’s the responsible thing to do.

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